The two Green Bay Packers' undrafted rookies who had the biggest impact on Saturday night's 20-16 loss to Tennessee were also the same ones who didn't finish it.
However, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after practice Monday the knee injuries running back Rajion Neal and linebacker Joe Thomas sustained against the Titans are not considered to be serious.
Neal, an 1,100-yard rusher at Tennessee as a senior, had five carries for 39 yards and a 12-yard touchdown run against the Titans, most of which came on the offense's longest drive of the night at the start of the second half (seven plays, 79 yards).
Neal suffered his knee injury on a 22-yard kickoff return shortly after the two-minute warning and didn't return, but said he doesn't expect to miss much time. There were crutches leaning in his locker, but he walked unassisted during the open session to the media.
"I've got to play," said Neal, who saw 11 offensive snaps Saturday. "There ain't no way around it. Being in the position I'm in, I can't afford it."
There isn't any time to waste for Neal. Only one undrafted rookie running back, Kregg Lumpkin (2007), has made the Packers' opening 53-man roster in coach Mike McCarthy's nine years in Green Bay and the room is deeper than it's ever been.
With Eddie Lacy and James Starks already cemented into roles and DuJuan Harris back from injury, both he and Mississippi State rookie LaDarius Perkins knew what they were signing up for.
Neal's size (5-foot-11, 220 pounds) and capability as a receiver make him an intriguing prospect. He was extremely productive with the Volunteers, amassing more than 2,800 total yards in 43 games split between running back and receiver.
"Honestly, I just don't put too much pressure on myself," Neal said. "I make sure I go out there and enjoy the two, three reps they give me, or on some days, the 10. And I think that's the big deal for me, just that I go out there and have fun, just cut it and let it loose."
Last week, running backs coach Sam Gash said he believes both Neal and Perkins "are starting to go the right way" in practice.
In his NFL debut, Neal certainly made an impression with his 12-yard touchdown run garnering congratulations from the rookies all the way up to veterans like quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson.
Rodgers has said in the past that every year there seems to be an undrafted running back who catches people's eye and leads the Packers in rushing during the preseason. Assuming his knee injury won't keep him off the field long, Neal hopes this year it could be him.
"They told me to keep running hard," said Neal of what the veterans said when he scored Saturday. "Aaron and Jordy and all those guys gave me handshakes and told me they like the way I run, so it was definitely a moment you'll remember and it felt good."
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